I’ve never known someone who was a victim of an American mass shooting until today.
I turned on Radio New Zealand this morning just in time for the headlines. I was shocked to hear that two TV journalists were murdered during a live interview in my home state of Virginia. As the morning dragged on, I heard the name of one of the victims, Alison Parker. A wave of sadness washed over me.
Alison Parker was a news editor for the James Madison University newspaper, The Breeze. She was the first news editor I worked with.
It’s not like I had a close relationship with Alison — I never really put any effort into building relationships or being friendly when I was in college — but I remember her always being bubbly and cheerful during the weekly news writers meetings. She was driven and motivated.
And now she’s gone.
I’m sick and tired of the constant stream of tragic shootings. I’m not sure if Americans know this, but our mass shootings are the one piece of news that are ALWAYS broadcasted throughout the world.
On my flight from Sydney to Auckland there was one television broadcast for the entire flight, instead of individual monitors. The first program was SKY News. The first story was the mass shooting of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This was on June 19, the exact day that Vester Lee Flanagan claimed he put down a deposit for a gun in reaction to that shooting. I wonder how many crazed attackers this shooting has inspired. It was live on air, giving Flanagan a new level of infamy for others to strive for.
I’m fucking embarrassed to be an American. We are the only developed country in the world that has this problem. Alison Parker was an amazing person and journalist. Now she’s gone because American politicians are afraid of upsetting the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby. She’s gone because American politicians are more interested in tax cuts for the wealthy “job creators” than providing adequate funding for mental health facilities.
As bad as it sounds, this is the first shooting that has made me feel genuine sadness. Americans have become desensitized to mass shootings, but this one is different for me. I’ve talked to her and emailed her. She edited my news reporting on the JMU governing board. She was murdered on live television.
You’re making it very difficult for me to be the American Ambassador in rural New Zealand. Whenever I meet someone new, I have to answer the same routine questions. Whereabouts in the States are you from? Virginia. Where’s that? Middle of the east coast. What’s up with Donald Trump? I don’t know. Don’t blame me, please!
The presidential election is more than 14 months away but you guys already have a debilitating case of Trump fever.
I’ve seen the Fox News debate with Mr. Trump front and center, I’ve seen the poll numbers, but for some reason I didn’t believe it was real. Like a holocaust denier, I refused to face the truth. It finally hit me when I read this Think Progress article about his recent “Pep Rally” in Alabama. I can’t deny the pictures. My god. The pictures.
These are the first images I’ve seen of actual living, breathing, sentient — maybe — supporters of Mr. Trump. They have t-shirts! And signs! What the fuck is going on over there, guys??
He doesn’t have a platform. Instead, he uses his skills from years behind the camera of reality TV shows to spew racist rhetoric and propaganda about how he’s sick of political correctness.
America is already filled to the brim with fear, hatred an resentment. We don’t need anymore, thanks. My heart goes out to the Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, who are terrified of living in America. They just want a better life for their families. I used to work a day labor job installing office furniture and cubicles. Two Mexicans worked with my friend Juan, who is Ecuadorian, and I on a Saturday. They said they have full time work during the week but they can’t take a day off. I spent the wad of twenties I earned on pot and beer and went back to my comfortable suburban home, they took the money home to feed their children.
Meanwhile, the shrinking middle class of blue-collar, god-fearing white people throw their support behind the rich asshole who tells them to blame the poor, hard-working immigrants for their financial woes, when it’s actually the rich asshole’s fault. It’s a classic scapegoat technique. Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Now Trump is using it. They gobble it up like Big Macs and Super Double Big Gulps because they can’t think for themselves because the Bible is the only book they need and because the schools are constantly being defunded by the rich assholes. Add the toxic right-wing media and you have a never ending shit-storm of ignorance and deception. Everyone loses. Except the rich assholes.
Please, I beg you, stop this madness. I know, you feel like you need to “take your country back” and “make America great again,” but this is not the way forward. A President Trump would be a worldwide embarrassment. I know many of you simple Christian Right Americans don’t travel much — you live paycheck to paycheck because of the tax-evading, deregulating rich assholes — and often stay in the small town you grew up in, but please consider the rest of the world when you vote.
I’m getting really tired of explaining the GOP reality show circus to these New Zealanders who are just as baffled a I am.
I never expected to encounter religious zealots or political conservatives in Australia and New Zealand. I thought they could only be found in the wilds of America. But somehow they always manage to find me.
Josh and I weren’t prepared for the cold and wet of the Adelaide hills. We had been living in the desert for months, where the perpetual dry heat makes life easy. We sought refuge at a holiday park to dry our clothes and gear. I made the short walk to the facilities to put in a load of laundry.
“Good morning! Where are you from?” a middle-aged woman immediately asks me, as if she has been waiting for someone to talk to.
I say the States and she says that’s amazing. She spent time with some ranchers in Oklahoma and loved it. I try to shake her off and get back to my washing, but she appears to be brainwashed or maybe she is a robot because her wide eyes seem blank and her smile is way too big.
Yeah, I love America,” she continues, deadpan. “The only problem is that the military is controlled by the devil.”
The crazy inside of her is no longer able to contain itself and I take that as my invitation to stop giving her my time. I tell her to have a great day as I walk back to the site with a great story to tell Josh.
Then there was the old man in the Auckland CBD who found me on a cold Monday morning. It was my third day in New Zealand and I was sitting on a bench smoking a rollie and drinking a flat white between opening a bank account, registering for a tax number and applying for my driver’s license.
“Mind if I join you?” he asks.
I always welcome a random conversation, so I invite him to take a seat. He hears my accent and tells me I must be an American. He says he’s a born again Christian. I get really excited and tell him I’ve studied you, what do you have to say?
I have something very bad to tell you about America,” he tells me, grimly.
Great! Lay it on me. I realize he isn’t the type of person to be straightforward as he begins his exposition. He says in the New Testament, there is a story of the sign of the devil, 666, marked on the right hand of sinners. I finish my cigarette and become impatient. He produces a small copy of the New Testament full of dog-eared pages and annotations and tells me to read the line he is referring to. I finish my coffee. Yeah, that’s great, man. What is this terrible thing you have to say about America?
He reaches into his coat pocket again and gives me a printed off article about Obamacare. It’s from some religious blog and it says as part of Obamacare, all Americans will be required to have a tiny microchip implanted in their right hand. And there you have it, folks, certified proof that Obama is the devil. But he’s not done yet. He tells me Obama is a Muslim at heart and there it is again, my queue to leave.
Looking back on these interactions, it would have been much more fun and interesting if I egged them on agreed with them. I should have taken it further, donned my tin foil hat and thought up some ridiculous conspiracy theory that would make them uncomfortable.
Now I’m in a rural farming town in New Zealand where Christian Farmers don’t pay any taxes and racism toward the Māori, Chinese and Indians is casual. And conservatism is king. Digger’s Father stopped by the farm yesterday morning and we had a little chat.
So, Sean, who do you have for President?” the typical American question.
The first thing I have to say is how the Republican race is a reality show with Donald Trump fear-mongering to get the support of angry old white people. Then I say I’m not a big fan of Hillary, she is too establishment and too boring. I don’t trust her. I’m a big supporter of Bernie Sanders. I’ve been a fan of his for a while now but I never expected him to blow up like this. He is the first politician I’ve ever seen who actually tells the truth and focuses on people, not money.
We talk about this for a bit and he asks me what I want to do when I go back to the states. I tell him I want to be a journalist. I want to talk to people and ask questions and write. That’s the dream, for now.
He says all of the journalists here in New Zealand and way too far to the left. It takes me back to the days of Sarah Palin repeating the words “lame-stream media” on Fox News. I nod and think about how I’ve fallen in love with Susie Fergusen, host of Radio NZ’s Morning Report, and the way she ruthlessly attacks politicians and speaks truth to power. I don’t think of her as liberal. I think of her as trustworthy.
This is the way I see it: It is the job of the journalist to seek out the truth. If the majority of journalism is “liberal,” does that mean that journalists have a liberal bias or does it mean that the truth has a liberal bias?
Next we arrive on the issue of climate change. First it was global warming, now it’s climate change, now they say we are going into another ice age.
I don’t buy it.”
He has read a lot about the issue and looked at it from both sides and decided that it’s all a bunch of bullshit from the UN and Obama to make money. He mentions a guy from NASA who retired and wasn’t on the payroll anymore so he could finally write about how climate change isn’t manmade, it’s just nature. I nod my head and remain silent but what I really want to do is yell in his face.
Then it’s on to Labor Unions, which are huge in New Zealand. Digger’s Dad is an engineer and was on a job one day with a truck driving union member. The union guy assumed they were both on the same page and brought up some recent issue. He said he wasn’t a union supporter.
“Well, what would you do if you thought you weren’t getting paid enough?” the truck driver asked.
“I would talk to my boss and tell him to pay me more. If he disagreed, I would go find another job,” he replied.
That shut him up.”
I think to myself, Wow, what a ridiculous oversimplification of the role of unions. What if you can’t just go to the job store and pick out a new job? And of course Digger was sitting there agreeing with everything his Dad said.
It doesn’t matter what country you are in. People in rural, less educated areas will mostly be conservative. Digger has often told me that he didn’t get into farming because he was good at school. They resent the big university boys from Auckland and Wellington who never worked a “real” job, who take their hard-earned money and give it to the Māori and the other dole bludgers. There are often racist undertones to their political thoughts.
On my first night drinking with real Kiwis around a giant bon fire, these white farmer guys and girls kept talking about Niggers. I had to stop to ask, who are the Niggers? The Māori.
I have heard jokes like: “What’s the best place to hide a Māori’s dole check? Under his work boot.” Māori’s can often earn more on the dole than they can working, which creates a lot of resentment, but calling them Niggers seems a bit extreme. That word has a lot of history to it.
I thought I was traveling through one of the the more enlightened areas of the world, but I guess there are different types of people everywhere. I’m kind of glad though, it keeps things interesting.
I felt a terrible gut-wrenching pain while watching the Fox News Republican Presidential Debate after being away from American conservative extremism for the past year and two months. That feeling returned the next morning while I was listening to New Zealand public radio on my tractor run. Radio NZ’s short coverage consisted of one outrageous Donald Trump quote. He said moderator Megyn Kelly, “had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
This is the one small piece of American news many people across the world heard today. How sad is that?
It’s not surprising though. The first Republican debate is always a race to the bottom to see who is best at pandering to their conservative base. All 10 candidates came in with carefully crafted one-liners intended to garner the most tweets and shares and likes. It’s a popularity contest. It’s the result of the dumbing down of journalism and online media. Click bait. You’ll never believe what Donald Trump just said. It’s not about the truth anymore, it’s about getting the most page views. It’s all fake. America.
The first debate is always moderated by Fox News, and all of the candidates are chosen by Fox News. They set the agenda. If you aren’t a Christian and don’t believe in God, then don’t even try running as a Republican. These candidates are expected to fit into a tiny box created by Fox News, the Republican Party and the Christian Right. They are all one and the same. The holy trinity.
The status quo of the debate scares me. The way the words “terrorist” and “freedom” and thrown around like they actually mean something. The complete rejection of abortion in all cases. The way God and religion are completely intertwined in a country where separation of church and state is the law.
I’ve studied the Christian Right and I wrote my senior thesis about their education policy. It all stems from biblical inerency, that the Bible is completely without error and contains all answers to life’s complexities. Everything is black and white. They are simplistic and can’t comprehend that, hey, maybe if a pregnant woman’s life is in danger, or if a young girl was raped or a victim of incest, maybe it would be OK if she had an abortion.
Nope. Not to Fox News.
The Republican status quo on abortion is that life starts at the exact moment when the sperm fertilizes the egg. From that point, the tiny fetus is an American citizen with all of the protections of the constitution. If you are a gay fetus, however, just stay in the womb. You have more rights there.
Megyn Kelly turns to Marco Rubio and says he has favored rape and incest exceptions to abortion bans. She asks, “If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?”
RUBIO: Well, Megyn, first of all, I’m not sure that that’s a correct assessment of my record. I would go on to add that I believe all–
KELLY: You don’t favor a rape and incest exception?
RUBIO: I have never said that. And I have never advocated that. What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection.
In fact, I think that law already exists. It is called the Constitution of the United States.
RUBIO: And let me go further. I believe that every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws, whether they can vote or not. Whether they can speak or not. Whether they can hire a lawyer or not. Whether they have a birth certificate or not. And I think future generations will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave them a chance to live.
Great job, Rubio, if you want a crowd reaction just namedrop the constitution. No matter what position he has taken in the past, he has to say he was never in favor of any abortion exceptions if he wants to remain in the competition. All of these candidates have to pander to their conservative base and double down on the extremism. But as soon as one of them wins the bid, they turn into a different candidate so they can gather a wider audience.
“Alright, gentlemen,” says moderator Kelly. “We’re gonna switch topics now and talk a bit about terror and national security.”
Chris Christie says the NSA should be able to run bulk collection of Americans’ home phone records, while Rand Paul says we should only collect information from terrorists.
CHRISTIE: And — and, Megyn? Megyn, that’s a — that, you know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer. “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.” How are you supposed to know, Megyn?
PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!
CHRISTIE: What are you supposed to…
PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!
CHRISTIE: …how are you supposed to — no, I’ll tell you how you, look…
PAUL: Get a warrant!
CHRISTIE: Let me tell you something, you go…
PAUL: Get a judge to sign the warrant!
CHRISTIE: When you — you know, senator…
They skate to center ice and throw a few punches before the referees break it up.
The word “terrorist” bothers me. There are definitely terrible people in the world who are committing terrible acts of torture and violence. But there is a serious problem with using the word so casually and frequently. It’s a great strategy, though, if the intention is to keep Americans afraid of a straw man and let their rights slowly be dismantled.
Think of it from all perspectives. If a strong global power illegally invades countries and kills an estimated 210,000 civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, who is the terrorist? It can’t be the Americans, because we are fighting a war on terror, so we are incapable of committing any acts of terrorism.
Americans are extremely self-centered. We are the best country in the world and we are the global police force and it is totally justified to have military personnel in 130 countries and over 900 overseas bases. If we have an ideological (read: economic) difference with a country, we need to invade to protect our diplomatic (read: monetary) interests.
The system is genius. Everything is so well-thought out and the propaganda is so subtly-incorporated into society. The goal is to keep a large class of misinformed, uneducated, poor workers who are passive consumers of media and merchandise on the bottom and a rich, powerful ruling class on top. It’s all good though because this is America, where even if your father was a mailman or a bartender — as Kasich and Rubio were so eager to share — you can still be a presidential candidate. This is America, where there is less social mobility than Canada and Western Europe, I mean, wait… What happened to the American dream? Oh yeah, Reagan killed it with deregulation and lowering taxes on the rich.
The joining of the Republican Party and evangelical churches streamlined this system and changed American politics forever. Now, everyone in the Republican Party is assumed to be a devout Christian.
This makes me feel so helplessly sad. That there are actually people, lots of them, who think like this. My gut reaction is to grab them by the shoulders and shake them and make them travel the world and try to talk like that in any other country in the world and see what happens.
Carol Fox brings up the same self-centered worldview I mentioned earlier. White, heterosexual, God-fearing, Bible-thumping, gun-owning Americans are the most important people in the world. We shouldn’t worry about the possibility of gay people being “prosecuted” and discriminated against, we should be worrying about the Real Americans who don’t like these faggots being allowed to have the same rights that I enjoy. I mean, for heaven’s sake, how am I supposed to explain two men kissing to my five-year-old daughter?
Watching the Fox News debate at a time when the only other American media I have recently consumed is the new season of Rick and Morty is like only watching Damo and Darren videos to understand contemporary social issues of Australia. I can’t imagine a politician from New Zealand saying Scott Walker’s quote: “I’m certainly an imperfect man. And it’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed from my sins.” I know this debate is extreme and it doesn’t accurately characterize what America is all about.
I actually have a lot of hope for America. Future generations won’t look at us as baby killing barbarians as Rubio predicts. They will wonder why we didn’t legalize gay marriage and allow women to have control over their bodies earlier.
Historians are going to look back on the Obama years as a transformative time for America. He will be remembered as one of the best Presidents of modern history. He is the first African-American president, elected a short 50 years after the Civil Rights movement. He passed comprehensive health care reform resulting in millions of Americans having access to affordable health insurance. He ended one inherited war and scaled down another. Gay marriage was legalized under his term. Recreational marijuana was passed in three states.
America is changing and it is only going to get better. We are becoming more diverse and our national skin color is getting darker. We are changing our minds on social issues and economic justice is becoming an issue that cannot be avoided. It doesn’t matter what Donald Trump said today. What matters is how he will be remembered: as a gigantic asshole.